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Jun 21, 2009 09:23 PM

Three Days in Napa Valley - please help!

My wife and I will be spending 3 days in Napa Valley next week. We are a young couple in our 20s from NY who love all types of good food.

We do have a reservation for dinner at the French Laundry on our final night there, but we wanted to make the most out of our three days there, so we're looking for tips and suggestions from Chowhounders. Also, we don't know very much about wine, but would love to visit at least 3-4 good wineries during our time there, so recommendations on those would be most welcome as well. We'll be staying in Downtown Napa (the River Terrace Inn) during our trip.

This is what we have so far on our itinerary:

Day 1: Arriving in the afternoon - planning on walking around downtown Napa and checking out the Oxbow Market before dinner
Dinner reservations at Ad Hoc. Also considering Redd for dinner, but at this point Ad Hoc sounds more interesting.

Day 2: Lunch reservations at Redd/Bistro Jeanty. I know Bistro Jeanty is more classical French Bistro food, which we enjoy. Just wondering if Redd is a must-go restaurant on our trip, or if it's just another good restaurant on par with Bistro Jeanty/Ad Hoc.

Thinking of trying out Hog Island Oysters (we love oysters) before dinner.

Dinner reservations at Celadon. We probably want to try to stay in downtown Napa for dinner at least one of the nights (instead of driving to Yountville every night), so any suggestions besides Celadon (I've heard Cole's Chop House, but am not really interested in getting steak in Napa) would be most welcome.

Day 3: Early lunch reservations at Auberge du Soleil (since we have a 5:30 seating at TFL). Mainly going there for the view. Any thoughts on whether it makes more sense just to go to the Bistro instead of the Restaurant for lunch?

Dinner reservations at The French Laundry.

Any critique on the itinerary above as well as any advice on what to order at these places would be most appreciated.

We'll probably try to visit wineries before or after lunch on Days 2 and 3. We haven't really tried a lot of wines, but we know we like Rieslings, Muscats and generally sweeter, more fruit-like wine. Any suggestions on wineries that are good for beginners but offer more intimate and interesting experiences would be great. Thanks!

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  1. Your itinerary for food covers some of the highly recommended spots. As for day 2, Redd blows Bistro Jeanty out of the water. BJ is pretty average French bistro food and some things about it feel contrived and downright obnoxious like the faux decor and the piling on of the frites. So definitely chose Redd if you're deciding between those two.

    You might want to look into Ubuntu in downtown Napa to add a little variety too. Seems like you have a lot of the same kinds of food in your itinerary. There are lots of reports on Ubuntu here so I'll leave it to you to see if it's something you're interested in. Seems like you're aiming upscale, so Ubuntu might fit in and be a refreshing change of pace.

    20 Replies
    1. re: Shane Greenwood


      Ubuntu Restaurant & Yoga Studio
      1140 Main Street, Napa, CA 94558

      1. re: Shane Greenwood

        Yes, I've heard Ubuntu being mentioned countless times on this board, but I am a little put off by the vegetarian-bent (being a seafood/meat-lover). that being said, I'm willing to consider it if it really is that good.

        I think most of my itinerary covers french/new american cuisine - I wouldn't mind more variety, but I've just been going with the highest rated places I can find. It's easy to find good Italian in NYC so I've been staying away from the Italian places.

        1. re: kewlly

          Makes sense, it all depends on what your tastes are. I will say that your reservations about Ubuntu echo the common refrain from a lot of people. The script usually goes like this: it's just vegetables-I don't want a bunch of salads and sides-oh my god I had no idea it would be this good. Anyway, if by highly rated you mean official stars and such you are well on the right track. But there are lots of other places to eat that are great but not fancy or rated with stars. One thing you might try is a picnic lunch with some of the amazing food you can buy at Oxbow.

          1. re: kewlly

            Kewlly, I am a die-hard meat and seafood eater and am well-known for eating all sorts of offal and odd ingredients. That said, Ubuntu is hands-down my favorite restaurant west of the Mississippi (and I have eaten at a LOT of Michelin-starred restaurants).

            Give yourself the opportunity to try something that will really astound you, despite the lack of meet or seafood.

            1. re: CarrieWas218

              I'm with Carrie. I used to think it wasn't really a meal unless it include meat. I loved my lunch at Ubuntu.

            2. re: kewlly

              Personally, I wouldn't let the vegetable thing put you off. If you "don't want a steak in Napa", Ubuntu will give you a great, unique experience that's pretty much exclusive to Napa. I'm no vegetarian, and neither is my husband, but it's pretty spectacular food. It's almost revelationary that "vegetables" can taste that good, and it's in no way austere - the food is luscious. (and don't let the yoga studio put you off, either. It's a beautiful restaurant, comfortable, but still spectacular.) It would fit well in that 2nd night spot - I think it would work well between Ad Hoc & French Laundry.

              As for the rest of your itinerary, it sounds good, if ambitious. Personally, I struggle with 2 seated meals every day, but if you're up for it, more power to you. I love Ad Hoc, and Redd is a great restaurant. I don't think it's particularly unique, but the food is great. I'd say that you could skip it if you wanted to nosh on oysters and the other stuff you'll find at Oxbow.

              1. re: cyberroo

                I do agree with the ambitious comment - I think one fancy/heavy meal a day is really all we can handle well. The Ubuntu arguments are also pretty convincing. With that in mind, I'm thinking of the following amended itinerary now:

                Day 1: Dinner at Ad Hoc

                Day 2: Lunch at Redd
                Dinner at Ubuntu

                Day 3: Oxbow Market picnic lunch
                French Laundry dinner

                Basically am cutting out Auberge du Soleil (might still drive there for a drink if we have time), Celadon and Bistro Jeanty.

                1. re: kewlly

                  Sounds like a winning plan. I hope you post back after your trip and let us know how it all went down.

                  Since you're a meat eater be sure to check out The Fatted Calf to pick up some meaty bites for your picnic. It's part of the Oxbow experience.

                  1. re: kewlly

                    all good changes, i would opt for Bottega in Yountville over Redd, it is definitely the hot spot in that neighborhood, Go Fish in St. Helena is another fun lunch spot, Martini winery across Hwy 29 has great cabernets too. Enjoy!

                    1. re: kewlly

                      All great, kewlly, except for Oxbow Market picnic lunch. I'm not a fan, except for Fatted Calf and Model Bakery. Weird industrial feel. Consider Sunshine Foods, Oakville Grocery, Dean & Deluca, even Whole Foods in Napa.

                      Will you spending any time upvalley (as we say here)? So far, your spots are only as far north as Yountville, and the great expansive beauty of the valley doesn't begin until you're north of there.

                      I'd really urge you to spend time in St.. Helena, Rutherford, and Oakville, driving Silverado Trail, and the sweet crossroads. I'd also suggest you spend as little time in the city of Napa as possible, except for at night, like at Ubuntu. You need to catch the spectacular beauty of this place while you're here.

                      Are you doing any wine-tasting?

                      1. re: maria lorraine

                        Concur with ML -- she's in the know! Downtown Napa doesn't have much going for itself as far as towns are concerned.

                        1. re: CarrieWas218

                          If that's the case, maybe I'll just stick with Auberge du Soleil for lunch on my last day in Napa instead of the Oxbow Market. Somewhere in our trip we are also planning on going to a spa in Calistoga.

                          We definitely want to visit 3-4 wineries during our time there, and I imagine most of them will be upvalley. Any thoughts on whether it's a better idea to do wine-tastings in the morning or afternoon, given the weather? Also, if we are driving, how many wine-tastings a morning/afternoon is safe to do?

                          ML, would you have a suggested traveling itinerary to cover some of the upvalley spots given the three day schedule I have? I imagine visiting most of these upvalley places during days 2 or 3, but we don't want to make the entire trip too packed/rushed either. Thanks for the feedback!

                          Day 1: Arrive in Napa around 4-5pm
                          Dinner at Ad Hoc (Yountville)

                          Day 2: Lunch at Redd (Yountville)
                          Dinner at Ubuntu (Napa)

                          Day 3: Auberge du Soleil (Rutherford)
                          French Laundry dinner (Yountville)

                          1. re: kewlly

                            Since you are heading north, and you like food, I recommend making a stop at the CIA Greystone for a quick visit. It is just north of St Helena and is in the old, historic Chistian Brothers Winery building. It's a massive rock-face building set on the side of the hill with great views. The restaurant polarizes people on CH, but I find it to be ideal for a glass of wine and a small plate or two at their bar or on their deck over looking vineyards. Also, their cooking store is like porn for homecooks. It's right off the main road and is a nice way to spend an hour or so.

                            1. re: kewlly


                              I take it you like white wines, mainly. Is that correct? Have you thought of going to a sparkling (Champagne) winery? If so, Schramsberg is excellent, and between St. Helena and Calistoga.

                              Do you drink red wine? Would you like to taste red wine? Let me know so I can make some recommendations based on your preferences. Just so you know, we don't make much Riesling here, though we excel in Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and the oddball white variety. There are only a few Rieslings here in Napa Valley, so I'd urge you (if white wine is your only option), to concentrate while you're here on the whites we make well. You may find some delightful new tastes!

                              FYI, here is a New York Times short article on Napa Rieslings:

                              This Chowhound thread has wine recs that may be helpful to you also:

                              By the way, not that you asked but I'd eat the lightest lunch possible before French Laundry. Truly. Just a few bites of an appetizer or small salad and that's it. You really want your stomach to be ready for FL. Be sure to let your server know your wine preferences at dinner, and he will suggest a couple of glasses to have with your meal as it progresses. Another opportunity to taste something new that you may really love. You may also want to ask your server all along your visit here for a wine recommendation for a particular dish. Many times the restaurant will offer you a small taste of something to make sure it is to your liking before you order a full glass.

                              Good luck to you. This is such a wonderful place.

                              1. re: maria lorraine

                                Thank you!

                                Yes, whites are the preferred, and we are pretty open minded about trying the best Napa has, including some reds too. Are there wineries that have good varieties of both?

                                Our TFL reservation is at 5:30pm, I think we might just try to have breakfast and skip lunch altogether to get ourselves ready. Are wines reasonably priced at FL?

                                1. re: kewlly

                                  About wine at the French Laundry:
                                  Lots more threads on FL, if you'd like to do a search.

                                  I think you might like very much Schramsberg for bubbly, the single-vineyard Chardonnay tasting (about 4-6) at Nickel & Nickel, Stony Hill for both Riesling and world-class Chardonnay, Pride Mountain for very fine Chardonnay and Viognier plus a whole bunch of fantastic reds.

                                  Please also feel free to do a search for Napa Valley white wines. But I think I've chosen some of the best for your preferences right here. You will need to make reservations. Have a wonderful time.

                                  1. re: maria lorraine

                                    Going to do Schramsberg one morning, and Heitz Cellars and Stoney Hill the next day. Are there any good eats around Schramsberg/Calistoga? Thinking of staying around that area instead of heading back to Yountville for lunch at Redd.

                                    1. re: kewlly

                                      Martini House in St. Helena is wonderful.

                                      Also, please read this current thread about Schramsberg and environs.

                              2. re: CarrieWas218

                                Yup. Always heed ML

                                I was going to say "don't miss St. Helena" as well -- it's the most charming of the Napa Valley towns by a wide margin (IMHO), and there are several excellent restaurants there (Terra, Martini House, Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen, etc.). Plus, there's Woodhouse Chocolates and the olive oil place.

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                    1. If you're not super wine knowledgeable, you might just enjoy some places for other attributes such as the beautiful setting and view from Artesa just outside of town in the west countryside of Napa, and Hess Collection for the beautiful setting in the redwoods and the art collection . . . both of these places have nice wines and tours too.
                      Regarding Auberge, since you will be splurging at TFL that night, you might enjoy lunch on the deck at Auberge where things are served outside - casual, but tasty and upscale with a view that is so pretty. Also for the view of the western hills and their gardens, lunch at Brix on their outdoor terrace is hard to beat. Both Coles and Celadon will give you a great meal, but if you aren't wanting steaks, probably best to avoid Coles. Celadon has a really pleasant outdoor dining area. The patio area at Angele, just a short walk from Celadon, is also very nice on a warm day or evening.

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